THE STORY OF CADMUS
se confessus erat Dictaeaque rura tenebat,
cum pater ignarus Cadmo perquirere raptam
imperat et poenam, si non invenerit, addit
5 exilium, facto pius et sceleratus eodem.
Orbe pererrato (quis enim deprendere possit
furta Iovis?) profugus patriamque iramque parentis
vitat Agenorides Phoebique oracula supplex
consulit et, quae sit tellus habitanda, requirit.
10 “Bos tibi” Phoebus ait “solis occurret in arvis,
nullum passa iugum curvique inmunis aratri.
Hac duce carpe vias et qua requieverit herba
moenia fac condas, Boeotiaque ma vocato.”
Vix bene Castalio Cadmus descenderat antro,
15 incustoditam lente videt ire iuvencam
nullum servitii signum cervice gerentem.
Subsequitur pressoque legit vestigia gressu,
auctoremque viae Phoebum taciturnus adorat.
Iam vada Cephisi Panopesque evaserat arva:
20 bos stetit et tollens speciosam cornibus altis
ad caelum frontem mugitibus impulit auras,
atque ita, respiciens comites sua terga sequentes,
procubuit teneraque latus submisit in herba.
Cadmus agit grates peregrinaeque oscula terrae
25 figit et ignotos montes agrosque salutat.
Sacra Iovi facturus erat. Iubet ire ministros
et petere e vivis libandas fontibus undas.
Silva vetus stabat, nulla violata securi,
et specus in medio, virgis ac vimine densus,
30 efficiens humilem lapidum compagibus arcum,
uberibus fecundus aquis, ubi conditus antro
Martius anguis erat, cristis praesignis et auro;
igne micant oculi, corpus tumet omne venenis,
tres vibrant linguae, triplici stant ordine dentes.
35 Quem postquam Tyria lucum de gente profecti
infausto tetigere gradu, demissaque in undas
urna dedit sonitum, longo caput extulit antro
caeruleus serpens horrendaque sibila misit.
Effluxere urnae manibus sanguisque reliquit
40 corpus, et attonitos subitus tremor occupat artus.
Ille volubilibus squamosos nexibus orbes
torquet et inmensos saltu sinuatur in arcus,
ac media plus parte leves erectus in auras
despicit omne nemus, tantoque est corpore, quanto
45 si totum spectes, geminas qui separat arctos.
Nec mora, Phoenicas, sive illi tela parabant,
sive fugam, sive ipse timor prohibebat utrumque,
occupat: hos morsu, longis complexibus illos,
hos necat adfiatu funesti tabe veneni.
50 Fecerat exiguas iam sol altissimus umbras:
quae mora sit sociis, miratur Agenore natus,
vestigatque viros. Tegimen derepta leoni
pellis erat, telum splendenti lancea ferro
et iaculum, teloque animus praestantior omni.
55 Ut nemus intravit letataque corpora vidit
victoremque supra spatiosi corporis hostem
tristia sanguinea lambentem vulnera lingua,
“aut ultor vestrae, fidissima corpora, mortis,
aut comes” inquit “ero.” Dixit, dextraque molarem
60 sustulit et magnum magno conamine misit.
Illius impulsu cum turribus ardua celsis
moenia mota forent: serpens sine vulnere mansit
loricaeque modo squamis defensus et atrae
duritia pellis validos cute reppulit ictus.
65 At non duritia iaculum quoque vicit eadem:
quod medio lentae spinae curvamine fixum
constitit et totum descendit in ilia ferrum.
Ille dolore ferox caput in sua terga retorsit
vulneraque adspexit fixumque hastile momordit
70 idque, ubi vi multa partem labefecit in omnem,
vix tergo eripuit; ferrum tamen ossibus haesit.
Tum vero, postquam solitas accessit ad iras
causa recens, plenis tumuerunt guttura venis,
spumaque pestiferos circumfluit albida rictus,
75 terraque rasa sonat squamis, quique halitus exit
ore niger Stygio, vitiatas inficit auras.
Ipse modo inmensum spiris facientibus orbem
cingitur, interdum longa trabe rectior adstat
impete nunc vasto ceu concitus imbribus amnis
80 fertur et obstantes proturbat pectore silvas.
Cedit Agenorides paulum spolioque leonis
sustinet incursus instantiaque ora retardat
cuspide praetenta. Furit ille et inania duro
vulnera dat ferro figitque in acumine dentes.
85 Iamque venenifero sanguis manare palato
coeperat et virides adspergine tinxerat herbas:
sed leve vulnus erat, quia se retrahebat ab ictu
laesaque colla dabat retro plagamque sedere
cedendo arcebat nec longius ire sinebat,
90 donec Agenorides coniectum in guttura ferrum
usque sequens pressit, dum retro quercus eunti
obstitit, et fixa est pariter cum robore cervix.
Pondere serpentis curvata est arbor et ima
parte flagellari gemuit sua robora caudae.
95 Dum spatium victor victi considerat hostis,
vox subito audita est; neque erat cognoscere promptum
unde, sed audita est: “Quid, Agenore nate, peremptum
serpentem spectas? et tu spectabere serpens.”
Ille diu pavidus pariter cum mente colorem
100 perdiderat, gelidoque comae terrore rigebant.
Ecce viri fautrix, superas delapsa per auras,
Pallas adest motaeque iubet supponere terrae
vipereos dentes, populi incrementa futuri.
Paret et, ut presso sulcum patefecit aratro,
105 spargit humi iussos, mortalia semina, dentes.
Inde (fide maius) glaebae coepere moveri,
primaque de sulcis acies apparuit hastae,
tegmina mox capitum picto nutantia cono,
mox umeri pectusque onerataque bracchia telis
110 exsistunt, crescitque seges clipeata virorum.
Sic ubi tolluntur festis aulaea theatris,
surgere signa solent primumque ostendere vultus,
cetera paulatim, placidoque educta tenore
tota patent imoque pedes in margine ponunt.
115 Territus hoste novo Cadmus capere arma parabat:
“ne cape”, de populo, quem terra creaverat, unus
exclamat “nec te civilibus insere bellis.”
Atque ita terrigenis rigido de fratribus unum
comminus ense ferit; iaculo cadit eminus ipse.
120 Hunc quoque qui leto dederat, non longius illo
vivit et exspirat modo quas acceperat auras;
exemploque pari furit omnis turba, suoque
Marte cadunt subiti per mutua vulnera fratres.
Iamque brevis vitae spatium sortita iuventus
125sanguineam tepido plangebat pectore matrem,
quinque superstitibus, quorum fuit unus Echion.
Is sua iecit humo monitu Tritonidis arma
fraternaeque fidem pacis petiitque deditque.
Hos operis comites habuit Sidonius hospes,
130 cum posuit iussam Phoebeis sortibus urbem
Now Jupiter had not revealed himself,
nor laid aside the semblance of a bull,
until they stood upon the plains of Crete.
But not aware of this, her father bade
her brother Cadmus search through all the world,
until he found his sister, and proclaimed
him doomed to exile if he found her not;—
thus was he good and wicked in one deed.
When he had vainly wandered over the earth
(for who can fathom the deceits of Jove?)
Cadmus, the son of King Agenor, shunned
his country and his father's mighty wrath.
But he consulted the famed oracles
of Phoebus, and enquired of them what land
might offer him a refuge and a home.
And Phoebus answered him; “When on the plains
a heifer, that has never known the yoke,
shall cross thy path go thou thy way with her,
and follow where she leads; and when she lies,
to rest herself upon the meadow green,
there shalt thou stop, as it will be a sign
for thee to build upon that plain the walls
of a great city: and its name shall be
the City of Boeotia.”
but hardly had descended from the cave,
Castalian, ere he saw a heifer go
unguarded, gentle-paced, without the scars
of labour on her neck. He followed close
upon her steps (and silently adored
celestial Phoebus, author of his way)
till over the channel that Cephissus wears
he forded to the fields of Panope
and even over to Boeotia.—
there stood the slow-paced heifer, and she raised
her forehead, broad with shapely horns, towards Heaven;
and as she filled the air with lowing, stretched
her side upon the tender grass, and turned
her gaze on him who followed in her path.
Cadmus gave thanks and kissed the foreign soil,
and offered salutation to the fields
and unexplored hills. Then he prepared
to make large sacrifice to Jupiter,
and ordered slaves to seek the living springs
whose waters in libation might be poured.
There was an ancient grove, whose branching trees
had never known the desecrating ax,
where hidden in the undergrowth a cave,
with oziers bending round its low-formed arch,
was hollowed in the jutting rocks—deep-found
in the dark center of that hallowed grove—
beneath its arched roof a beauteous stream
of water welled serene. Its gloom concealed
a dragon, sacred to the war-like Mars;
crested and gorgeous with radescent scales,
and eyes that sparkled as the glow of coals.
A deadly venom had puffed up his bulk,
and from his jaws he darted forth three tongues,
and in a triple row his sharp teeth stood.
Now those who ventured of the Tyrian race,
misfortuned followers of Cadmus, took
the path that led them to this grove; and when
they cast down-splashing in the springs an urn,
the hidden dragon stretched his azure head
out from the cavern's gloom, and vented forth
terrific hissings. Horrified they dropped
their urns. A sudden trembling shook their knees;
and their life-blood was ice within their veins.
The dragon wreathed his scales in rolling knots,
and with a spring, entwisted in great folds,
reared up his bulk beyond the middle rings,
high in the air from whence was given his gaze
the extreme confines of the grove below.
A size prodigious, his enormous bulk,
if seen extended where was naught to hide,
would rival in its length the Serpent's folds,
involved betwixt the planes of the Twin Bears.
The terrified Phoenicians, whether armed
for conflict, or in flight precipitate,
or whether held incapable from fear,
he seized with sudden rage; stung them to death,
or crushed them in the grasp of crushing folds,
or blasted with the poison of his breath.
High in the Heavens the sun small shadow made
when Cadmus, wondering what detained his men,
prepared to follow them. Clothed in a skin
torn from a lion, he was armed, complete,
with lance of glittering steel; and with a dart:
but passing these he had a dauntless soul.
When he explored the grove and there beheld
the lifeless bodies, and above them stretched
the vast victorious dragon licking up
the blood that issued from their ghastly wounds;
his red tongues dripping gore; then Cadmus filled
with rage and grief; “Behold, my faithful ones!
I will avenge your deaths or I will share it!”
He spoke; and lifted up a mill-stone huge,
in his right hand, and having poised it, hurled
with a tremendous effort dealing such
a blow would crush the strongest builded walls;
yet neither did the dragon flinch the shock
nor was he wounded, for his armour-scales,
fixed in his hard and swarthy hide, repelled
the dreadful impact. Not the javelin thus,
so surely by his armoured skin was foiled,
for through the middle segment of his spine
the steel point pierced, and sank beneath the flesh,
deep in his entrails. Writhing in great pain
he turned his head upon his bleeding back,
twisting the shaft, with force prodigious shook
it back and forth, and wrenched it from the wound;
with difficulty wrenched it. But the steel
remained securely fastened in his bones.
Such agony but made increase of rage:
his throat was swollen with great knotted veins;
a white froth gathered on his poisonous jaws;
the earth resounded with his rasping scales;
he breathed upon the grass a pestilence,
steaming mephitic from his Stygian mouth.
His body writhes up in tremendous gyres;
his folds, now straighter than a beam, untwist;
he rushes forward on his vengeful foe,
his great breast crushing the deep-rooted trees.
Small space gave Cadmus to the dragon's rage,
for by the lion's spoil he stood the shock,
and thrusting in his adversary's jaws
the trusted lance gave check his mad career.
Wild in his rage the dragon bit the steel
and fixed his teeth on the keen-biting point:
out from his poisoned palate streams of gore
spouted and stained the green with sanguine spray.
Yet slight the wound for he recoiled in time,
and drew his wounded body from the spear;
by shrinking from the sharp steel saved his throat
a mortal wound. But Cadmus as he pressed
the spear-point deeper in the serpent's throat,
pursued him till an oak-tree barred the way;
to this he fixed the dragon through the neck:
the stout trunk bending with the monster's weight,
groaned at the lashing of his serpent tail.
While the brave victor gazed upon the bulk
enormous of his vanquished foe, a voice
was heard—from whence was difficult to know,
but surely heard—“Son of Agenor, why
art thou here standing by this carcase-worm,
for others shall behold thy body changed
into a serpent?” Terrified, amazed,
he lost his colour and his self-control;
his hair stood upright from the dreadful fright.
But lo, the hero's watchful Deity,
Minerva, from the upper realms of air
appeared before him. She commanded him
to sow the dragon's teeth in mellowed soil,
from which might spring another race of men.
And he obeyed: and as he plowed the land,
took care to scatter in the furrowed soil
the dragon's teeth; a seed to raise up man.
'Tis marvelous but true, when this was done
the clods began to move. A spear-point first
appeared above the furrows, followed next
by helmet-covered heads, nodding their cones;
their shoulders, breasts and arms weighted with spears;
and largely grew the shielded crop of men.—
so is it in the joyful theaters
when the gay curtains, rolling from the floor,
are upward drawn until the scene is shown,—
it seems as if the figures rise to view:
first we behold their faces, then we see
their bodies, and their forms by slow degrees
appear before us on the painted cloth.
Cadmus, affrighted by this host, prepared
to arm for his defence; but one of those
from earth created cried; “Arm not! Away
from civil wars!” And with his trenchant sword
he smote an earth-born brother, hand to hand;
even as the vanquished so the victor fell,
pierced by a dart some distant brother hurled;
and likewise he who cast that dart was slain:
both breathing forth their lives upon the air
so briefly theirs, expired together. All
as if demented leaped in sudden rage,
each on the other, dealing mutual wounds.
So, having lived the space allotted them,
the youthful warriors perished as they smote
the earth (their blood-stained mother) with their breasts:
and only five of all the troop remained;
of whom Echion, by Minerva warned,
called on his brothers to give up the fight,
and cast his arms away in pledge of faith.—
when Cadmus, exiled from Sidonia's gates,
builded the city by Apollo named,
these five were trusted comrades in his toil.
Ovid. “Cadmus.” Metamorphoses. Book III: 1-130. Ed. Hugo Magnus. Gotha: Friedr. Andr. Perthes. 1892. Perseus.
Ovid. “Cadmus and the Dragon.” Metamorphoses. Book III: 1-137. Translated by Brookes More. Boston: Cornhill Publishing Co. 1922. Perseus.